Some months ago, I had the most pleasant visit to a(n established) church in many moons. I was encouraged by the grace and humility shown, by the thoughtful music choices, and the general spirit in evidence. I chose to believe that my heart was ready for that occasion, and that God was ready to work somehow. I also chose to document a few thoughts on music and worship, sort of for posterity and sort of as therapy.
The Christian assembly is a topic near and dear to my heart. A couple decades ago, I had more general hope for it, whereas these days, I am more likely to decry ineffectiveness. (“Near and dear” doesn’t require that I feel positive about it!) Having been encouraged in that December 2018 assembly, I’ll share here a few impressions and memories.
For years I have struggled—and will probably always struggle—with not having notated music available (whether on a screen or held in my hand in a book or other form). On that Sunday, though, somehow, I was able to sing during an unfamiliar song or two. The repetitiveness was just right, I suppose: just enough to lodge in my memory so I could sing the tune by the 3rd or 4th time it came around, but not enough to be annoying. Moreover, when I wasn’t able to sing, my heart was paying attention.
Part of the reason I was able to worship/ponder/meditate in my heart was that I was simply ready for the experience. One might even accurately say I was desperate to connect with God. Another reason was the singable tunes that did not manifest a lot of ornamentation, rampant stylizing, or unpredictable, melodic or rhythmic hoops to jump through or run around.
Aside: When I visited a church, say, in 2003, I would have known most of the songs since I was regularly listening to contemporary Christian worship music. Then, not having notated music wasn’t much of a problem. By 2005 in CO or 2010 in NY, my familiarity with the “contemporary corpus” was diminishing—and my frustration with the lack of notation, growing. Through the last decade, the frustration has continued to grow, and I have written some about this issue. Here are two samples:
The above material appeared in edited form in my assembly book, available here on Amazon.
Humility and leadership
The worship leadership group that day did a fine job, and its leader seemed particularly humble and on-target. I appreciated the way he spoke vulnerably of his own inadequacies as a disciple, and that made me appreciate his vocal leadership all the more. After all, if someone who supposes to guide minds and hearts in worship of the Almighty instead guides minds and hearts to focus on the human doing the leading, it’s worse than irony. It can be irreverence. And that morning, in that assembly, I experienced only good leadership—the kind that recognizes its limited place in the scheme of things.
For me, all this amounted to a pleasant dip while in an intense “valley.” The name on the sign was Pleasant Valley. This church group has a denominational connection, but I understand the leaders are trying to be more nondenominational, and I’m encouraged by that, too. All other things being equal, the less dogma, the less denominational stuff, the more interest in simple, biblical Christianity, the more humility will be evidence . . . and the more likely it is that genuine creature-to-Creator worship can freely occur.
– B. Casey, 12/13/18